The Holy See’s delegation to the United Nations reminded policymakers on Monday to listen to indigenous peoples’ concerns in efforts to protect the environment and achieve sustainable development.
“Their input in the decision-making process is vital, because the very survival of their identity and heritage could be at stake,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the apostolic nuncio heading the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations, said Oct. 19.
The archbishop addressed a UN agenda item on the rights of indigenous peoples. He stressed their right to develop in a way that is as much as possible coherent and harmonious with their values.
“This can only be assured if the indigenous peoples themselves have a say in their own development,” he added.
Archbishop Auza said the Holy See backed increased efforts to promote and protect the human rights, identity, culture, and tradition of indigenous peoples. He also encouraged efforts to take into account indigenous peoples’ wisdom and experience in finding approaches that foster their wellbeing and promote their interests.
Success in achieving sustainable development, he said, requires “an authentic sense of fraternity and collective responsibility for the wellbeing of our fellow human beings and for the world in which we live.”
The archbishop said that indigenous peoples can teach others about how to care for and love “our common home.”
“They are unique in their respect for the environment and for their attention to the needs of their community. Their tradition that spans millennia is characterized by a profound respect for nature as a gift and as a good common to all,” he said.
“For them, it is not simply a matter of moral obligation but common sense to consider future generations when taking from the land or when engaging with national governments for their own development.”
Archbishop Auza characterized indigenous communities as a counterexample to practices, habits, and trends that are “often expressions of selfish consumerism and are detrimental to our environment.”
The nuncio stressed the Holy See’s commitment to indigenous peoples’ integral development. The delegation called on policymakers at all levels to respect their rights to their homelands and natural resources.
The archbishop stressed the importance of just laws that regulate the relationship between indigenous peoples and extractive industries operating in their ancestral lands. These lands in many cases have “great spiritual, cultural, and environmental significance.”
He cited several parts of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato si’. The Pope similarly stressed the need for special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions.
“They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners,” the Pope said, adding, “for them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.”
The Pope’s encyclical said that indigenous people care for their own land best when they remain on it. He noted pressure on these peoples to abandon their homeland because of agricultural or mining projects “undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.”